The Power of Compassion

One of the things that I’ve often struggled with in my life is the idea of tolerating wrongdoings. From my perspective, if someone – including myself – does something wrong, they should be held accountable for that and then take steps to rectify the situation. By and large, I don’t apply this so much to myself and the various haters I’ve encountered, but rather to the people I respect and love. If someone wrongs them or maligns them or does something stupid, you can bet it’s going to create a big ol’ problem. This has happened numerous times in my life and I’ve usually been extremely active in dealing with it: sometimes tactfully and other times much more tangibly. The idea of turning the other cheek has never appealed to me because when I’ve done that in the past, the people at fault viewed my turning the other cheek as a tacit condoning of their actions. So I’ve done the exact opposite and gotten right in their faces. Sometimes this has corrected the situation and other times, it has not. But the idea of concealing my disgust or tolerating such behavior has always been a struggle.

When I started training in martial arts, the notion that ridiculous behavior be tolerated was never an option. There was always a protocol. There was always a set of guidelines. Practitioners were expected to conduct themselves with honor and loyalty and be upstanding citizens, showing respect to their seniors and instructors, helping others, and generally being productive members of society. In the event that someone failed to live up to or abide by those standards, they were given a warning to correct themselves. If they corrected their behavior, all was well. We all make mistakes, after all.

But if that person did not correct their ways, then other measures were employed to rectify the situation. Such was the way. As a practitioner, we’d all pledged to abide by the rules set forth by our instructor. If we couldn’t live up to that commitment, or did something to harm the reputation of the lineage or school, there would – sometimes literally – be hell to pay.

Since starting my training in Ninjutsu, there have been a host of individuals who have come through the dojo and fizzled out for one reason or another. As the years have gone on since I started training, I have always marveled at my teacher’s response to such people. Whereas I am much more confrontational about dealing with the situations these individuals have created through their reckless disregard, my teacher has always shown them compassion and done very little, superficially speaking, to affect things.

From one perspective, this compassion could be viewed as a weakness. The reckless and disrespectful individuals go on their merry way thinking that they put one over on my teacher or that they somehow came out on top of the situation or that my teacher isn’t really as tough as others have made him out to be. Their vanity and ego make them feel proud and superior to everyone else involved. “Hey, look at me. I called those guys idiots and disrespected the school and no one did a damned thing about it. I’m awesome. King of the jungle!”

But from another perspective – one much more aligned with the actual principles of Ninjutsu – this compassionate response to idiocy is actually far stronger than it appears on the surface. First of all from the physical perspective, it takes a very strong person to refrain from paying someone a visit and smacking the living crap out of them – especially when they’ve done horrific things. Second from the mental perspective, responding with compassion is actually far more powerful in that it manipulates the offending individual on a whole other level. By compassionately addressing them and allowing them to continue on their merry way, the offending individual’s vanity envelops them like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. They feel safe and secure in their delusions of greatness and superiority. They smile and feel great, which may be exactly what we want them to feel. And third from the spiritual perspective, knowing you can either wake someone up from their delusion or keep them imprisoned in it for as long as you want, is power on a whole other level.

This past week, another such individual reared their head. It was someone we haven’t seen around the dojo in a long time and someone I used to call a friend. He posted a video and stated that it demonstrated principles of an aspect of our art – but the individual in question isn’t remotely qualified to make such a statement and by doing so, he betrayed the very fact that he has no understanding of what this aspect of our art is about. When I commented that the video did not show good principles of the art, his response was to block me and delete my comments. He then lorded about pretending that he had staged the entire thing to root out those people who really weren’t his friends. On its own, that would have been fine. I would have simply shrugged and moved on, now alerted to the fact that he was a nutcase.

But then he took it a step further and implied that the man I call my teacher and one of my closest friends for over twenty years runs a “cult.”

I viewed this statement with rage, frankly. Nothing could be further from the truth than what he had suggested. And my immediate response was to try to reach out and correct the situation. I emailed the individual and contacted him via Twitter as well, telling him that I didn’t much care what he felt about me, but to suggest that my teacher – who had also been his teacher at one time and had helped him in innumerable ways – was running a cult was beyond belief and outrageous. I suggested he immediately retract the statement and make a public apology.

I got no response.

As a final effort on my part, I sent a message via Facebook to the man’s wife and asked her to pass it along to her husband. She then wrote to my teacher and said that her husband had made himself abundantly clear to me in his responses (I received no responses from him), along with a rambling diatribe that made little sense.

Throughout this entire situation, my teacher has remained upbeat and positive. I have struggled to restrain myself from a applying a much more hands-on solution. In the old days, this individual would have been taught a serious lesson about what happens when you disrespect a man who has shown you nothing but kindness and help.

My teacher shows all of these people compassion. He allows them to stay wrapped up in that blanket of delusion, knowing the truth that they are individuals who must walk their own paths barred from progression by the grievous mistakes they make – indeed, that it may not be their time, if ever, to be awakened. And by showing them compassion, my teacher extends to them an even greater lesson: that they still – even in the depths of their deluded personal hells – have the potential to awaken to the truth and atone for their mistakes. They could still correct their course and show they possess the necessary character to admit wrongdoings and then forge ahead on the path.

This form of compassion is something I aspire to. It is a fully-realized application of Ninjutsu in the real world. Each day, we all have to deal with idiots and rude people who have no clue or behave irrationally and without regard even for those who have shown them the utmost kindness. This form of compassion becomes one more tool in the arsenal of the practitioner. I am extremely fortunate to have a teacher who can illustrate such an amazing concept even as I struggle to come to grips with its principles.

Just one more lesson to be learned on the winding and challenging path of Budo.

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